Thursday, April 7, 2016

Indie Horror: WE ARE STILL HERE (2015)



It's kind of a filmmaking tradition not to let the writer on the set -- unless the writer is someone like Paddy Chayefsky, that is. In the case of WE ARE STILL HERE, the writer was not only on the set, but behind the camera as well. Don't worry though: things turned out fine -- or good enough, at least.

Background and Credits

Ted Geoghegan wrote and directed WE ARE STILL HERE. It was his first directorial effort on a feature film. Geoghegan was already known in the indie horror community for his screenwriting. His writing career began in 2001 with a co-writing credit for Andreas Schnaas' "Demonium."
Filmed in early 2014, WE ARE STILL HERE premiered at 2015's SXSW. The film continued to appear on the festival circuit throughout the rest of the year. Dark Sky Films picked it up for distribution. The film had a limited U.S. theatrical run in the summer of 2015. It released on DVD and VOD after that.
Barbara Crampton, the former soap star who made a second career out of being a scream queen, is the female lead. Andrew Sensenig ("Upstream Color," 2013) plays opposite her in the lead male role. Model-actress Lisa Marie and veteran horror character actor Larry Fessenden have key supporting roles. Monte MarkhamConnie NeerMichael Patrick Nicholson, and Kelsea Dakota have smaller but important supporting parts.

Story Summary

Set in the late 1970s, WE ARE STILL HERE is the story of the Sacchettis, Paul (Sensenig) and Anne (Crampton). The middle-aged, retired couple is struggling with the loss of their young adult son, Bobby. His death in a car accident caused Anne to go into a deep depression. Hoping to start over, they buy and move into a creepy farmhouse in rural New York State. But soon afterward, Anne starts to feel a spiritual presence in the place. She believes that the presence is Bobby's spirit. Paranormal events start to happen, especially in the dwelling's cellar. These increase in frequency and severity over time.


Cat (Neer) and Dave (Markham) visit Paul (Sensenig) and Anne (Crampton) in their new home - image source: The Creative Fox  Den
Two neighbors, Dave (Markham) and Cat (Neer), stop by to welcome Paul and Anne. Dave tells them the story of the house. The Dagmar family built it in the 1800s to use as a funeral home. According to Dave, they left town in disgrace due to a scandal. The townspeople accused the Dagmars of selling corpses instead of burying them. Lassander Dagmar, the patriarch of the family, then drank himself to death. Cat passes a note to Paul as she and Dave leave. Its message warns the Sacchettis to get out of the house before it's too late.

Jacob (Fessenden) and May (Marie) in WE ARE STILL HERE (2015) - image source:  No Film School
Jacob (Fessenden) and May (Marie) in WE ARE STILL HERE (2015) - image source:  No Film School
Undeterred, Anne invites her friend May (Marie) and her husband Jacob (Fessenden) to visit. Both are spiritualists. With their help, Anne hopes to make contact with Bobby. However, May decides that the presence is not Bobby, but rather something dark and evil. Jacob decides to hold a seance with Paul while May and Anne are out of the house. The channel he opens to the spiritual world unleashes the presence in the basement.
What is it? Who is it? Why is it there? What does it really want? The price of finding out the answers to these questions could be death and destruction for everyone in the house -- and in the nearby town as well.

Commentary

The film's editors, Aaron Crozier and Josh Ethier, make skillful use of B-roll footage to set the mood and tone of this film from its opening frames. Snowy, windy views of the house and the surrounding countryside create a white, frosty and sterile atmosphere. The mood of this outdoor milieu both contrasts with and complements the red, hot, and bloody environment that will develop later inside the house.
In another atmospheric touch, the locations, set design, and props evoke the late 70s in a convincing way, due to the efforts of production designer Marcella Brennan. Here Geoghegan signals the horror aficionado to look for references to the films of the period (the late 1970s to the early 1980s). One of the major allusions is to the work of Italian horror director Lucio Fulci.
The ghostly Dagmar family is named after an actress from Lucio Fulci’s The House By the Cemetery named Dagmar Lassander. It was such an influence here that “all of the characters in this film are named after a character, actor, or crew member from House By the Cemetery. One exception being Joe the electrician who is obviously a nod to Fulci’s The Beyond.”
In keeping with its writer-director's admiration for "the godfather of gore," WE ARE STILL HERE begins dispensing the grue early and ramps up the bloody carnage as the story progresses. The fiery demons that cause the mess in their pursuit of a "new family" to kill (and create a blood-soaked house as a result) are fairly original and quite convincing in appearance. The horror effects seem to be old-school physical ones.


At certain times, a melody in the musical score might remind you of a certain tune from "Starry Eyes" (2014). This coincidence might or might not have something to do with producer Travis Stevens, who also made "Starry Eyes" with directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer. Stevens is the founder and CEO of Snowfort Pictures, the boutique horror film company that produced both films.
Unlike in "Starry Eyes," the plot here does not falter in the third act. There are no corny elements in the ending. In general, the story has good pacing. Its major and minor arcs hang together well, delivering a satisfying haunted-house picture. The acting is good, but not great.

A clever montage of newspaper clippings runs over the closing credits. It provides backstory that confirms and deepens the significance of the events just seen in the film.

Summary

WE ARE STILL HERE (2015) is a good low-budget indie horror flick. While it does not do anything that's mind-blowingly amazing, it accomplishes its general mission well. I recommend it as one of the better horrors of 2015.
TFK's Rating (on IMDb): 6 out of 10 stars


Disclosure: TFK viewed this film on a DVD from Netflix and wrote this review based on personal preference. No review request was involved in this choice.